Business and human rights
Four fact sheets to help make human rights part of your core business.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has developed four short fact sheets to help Australian companies meet their responsibility to respect the human rights of those people impacted by their activities.
The fact sheets set out basic steps Australian companies should take to integrate human rights considerations into their everyday business practices.
Fact sheet 1 explains how human rights are relevant to Australian companies and sets out the business case for addressing human rights. It also provides links to practical tools to help companies conduct human rights impact assessments and integrate human rights policy, practice and reporting into business operations.
Fact sheets 2, 3 and 4 focus on specific human rights issues and practical tools relevant to:
- the Australian finance sector (Fact Sheet 2)
- the Australian mining and resources sector (Fact Sheet 3)
- the Australian retail and manufacturing sectors (Fact Sheet 4)
To receive further updates, sign up to the Commission’s employer email list at: www.humanrights.gov.au/about/mailing_lists/.
What do human rights have to do with Australian businesses?
Human rights are about promoting and protecting the values of respect, dignity and equality for every person, irrespective of their race, sex, religion, political opinion, disability, sexuality, social status, age or any other characteristic. Human rights are relevant, in various ways, to the economic, social and environmental aspects of business activities.
While the primary responsibility for the enforcement of international human rights standards lies with governments, there is a growing acceptance internationally and in Australia that companies also have an important role to play.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has recognised that, while the primary duty to protect and promote human rights lies with national governments, corporations also have a distinct responsibility to respect human rights.
In 2008, an Australian Senate motion emphasised the government’s responsibility to ‘foster a corporate culture respectful of human rights at home and abroad’. This speaks to the Australian Government’s responsibility to make and enforce laws and policies which ensure that companies do not breach human rights.
However, an Australian company that complies with Australian laws (or the local laws of a country in which the company operates), does not necessarily satisfy its responsibility to respect human rights. Companies should use a due diligence process to assess and address the human rights impacts of their business activities, and provide remedies when human rights breaches occur.
For further information, see the Commission's four fact sheets setting out basic steps Australian companies should take to integrate human rights considerations into their everyday business practices.
For further information on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, see the 2008 report of the United Nations Special Representative on business and human rights, Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights.
Past projects and publications
Publications and speeches:
Why doing the 'rights' thing is good for business. This opinion piece by the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Catherine Branson QC, was published in Ethical Investor magazine (October-November 2009 issue).
Human Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility. This speech was delivered by Graeme Innes AM, former Human Rights Commissioner at the Everyday People, Everyday Rights Human Rights Conference hosted by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission in Melbourne on 16 March 2009.
Raising the Bar: Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights. This speech was delivered by Graeme Innes AM, former Human Rights Commissioner at the annual national conference of the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility in Sydney on 20 February 2008.
Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights. This short paper, published in 2008, addresses some basic questions regarding corporate social responsibility and the role of Australian companies in respecting human rights.
A range of past Commission projects have touched on various aspects of corporate responsibility and the links between business activities and human rights. Some examples include:
- Good Practice; Good Business – a set of resources which provide practical guidance for businesses on eliminating discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
- It’s About Time: Women, Men, Work and Family – a project examining the need for a new framework to support a better balance between paid work and family responsibilities.
- Access to electronic commerce – a project aimed at improving the accessibility of electronic financial services for older Australians and Australians with a disability, including through the adoption of voluntary standards for the Australian banking industry.
Development and Indigenous Land: A Human Rights Approach – a set of principles addressing resource development on Indigenous land, developed by a forum of Indigenous people from Australia's major mineral resource regions.
- Corporate Social Responsibility, Native Title and Agreement Making – a report analysing the policies of eight major mining companies in Australia, and identifying approaches which companies might adopt in relation to the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples.
In addition, many aspects of the Commission’s everyday work relate to the links between business activities and human rights. For example, this includes:
- conciliating complaints regarding discrimination in the workplace or in the provision of goods or services
- considering applications made by companies for specific exemptions under anti-discrimination laws
- intervening in court proceedings involving human rights complaints lodged against companies.
- St. James Ethics Centre - the HUB of Responsible Business Practice
- UN Global Compact Network Australia
- Oxfam Australia Mining Ombudsman project
- Human Rights Law Resource Centre
- Australian Human Rights Centre - International Trade, Transnational Corporations and Human Rights Project
- Castan Centre for Human Rights Law – Multinational Corporations and Human Rights Project
- Deakin University Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation – Corporate Citizenship Research Unit
- Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility
- Human Rights Translated: A Business Reference Guide, produced by the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, the International Business Leaders Forum and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Global Compact Office
- Corporate Duty and Human Rights Under Australian Law, Allens Arthur Robinson
- Good Business Register
- Corporate Responsibility Index
- Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services
- United Nations Special Representative on business and human rights
- Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
- Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights
- United Nations Global Compact
- Global Reporting Initiative
- The Human Rights & Business Project
- International Business Leaders Forum
- United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative – Human Rights Work Stream
- Human Rights Watch
- Amnesty International
- OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
- Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights
- The Equator Principles for assessing and managing social and environmental risk in project financing